Apr 12, 2020, 7:17 PM
by Nadège Rolland
In my latest report, I dissect the strands of thought underpinning China’s vision for a new world order and study its emerging features
China’s leadership is determined to alter the norms that underpin existing institutions and put in place the building blocks of a new international system.
A “vision” is by definition abstract, not fully formed and subject to change. In China’s case, this vision is also buried under layers of propaganda. But if we pay close attention, some key elements are discernible.
1/ The Chinese leadership believes that the existing order is “unfair” (it should allow China to have a greater role, commensurate with its growing power) and is incapable of offering “reasonable” solutions to the global needs.
2/ Instead of considering liberal democratic values as essential conditions for achieving global peace and prosperity, the CCP sees the global promotion of “so-called universal values” as the main cause for conflict and chaos – an obvious reflection of its own survival anxieties.
3/The CCP does not have any appealing substitutes to the existing set of international norms. Even at home, it is trying to bolster its legitimacy with artifices rather than a positive, clearly defined set of beliefs for the country’s overall direction.
4/The Chinese leadership’s vision for what the world should look like is based in the first instance on a negative agenda – the refutation of liberal democracy as the path to peace and prosperity – rather than a positive view of a desired future.
5/China does not need to prove that its own system can be applied universally. Demonstrating that no system is truly universal fundamentally undermines the existing international order’s core principles and undercuts any system based on universal values.
6/Once China has eroded a truly international order, it can hope to carve out a sphere of influence including large portions of the non-Western and mostly non-democratic world where its preferred worldview, rules and norms will be endorsed, followed and respected.
7/China wants to dominate this parallel system. But the 21st Century Chinese version of hegemony does not seek to replicate the old “Rule Britannia” or “Pax Americana” precedents. Chinese elites reject any form of Western influence, even when they think about models of empire.
8/Chinese elites are trying to develop modern, softened versions of the traditional sinocentric order, usually by insisting on its benevolent nature (“humane authority,” “great harmony”…). But imperialistic undertones and intimations of domination are not easy to work around.
9/The various components of Xi’s diplomacy (community of shared future, Belt and Road, global network of partnerships) point to a vision in which China’s leadership is exercised over substantial portions of the emerging and developing world,…
10/…a space free from Western influence and largely purged of the core liberal democratic beliefs supported by the West.
11/In this hierarchical system, China would be akin to a massive, dazzling star pulling smaller planets into its orbit without necessarily exerting direct control over them.
12/Its contours would not be defined along precise geographic or ideological lines, but rather by the degree of deference and respect that those within China’s sphere are willing to offer Beijing.